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Monday, November 23, 2015

My First School Visit

Well, not really my first. I've done some back in the days when my four campus school had a small budget for a writer's festival each year. There were the paid guests and it was supplemented by the two teacher writers who worked in the school, myself and Chris Wheat. But it was just at a different campus of the same school. I have also done a couple of visits with Ford Street and on one of those occasions I was even paid, though not a full scale payment. Once I did a workshop, the other time I just signed. But it was the first where I acted as a regular guest speaker.

Below is a letter to the enthusiastic young teacher who organised it.

Dear enthusiastic young teacher,

As a teacher, you rock! You care about your students as much as I do about mine. You give them your time for a lot of amazing stuff, such as writing groups and dance clubs and, as part of your teaching of multi media, you arrange an annual film festival. Wow! Top marks for all that.

And - every year, you somehow manage to find kind hearted writers, mostly "emerging" writers who  don't yet have the nerve to ask to be paid but want the practice, and do a writers' festival, just like the rich schools, even if you will never be able to afford John Marsden or whoever. I'm not an emerging writer, having ten books, some articles and short stories under my belt, but I work down the road from you and I want to encourage communication between us and one of our feeder schools. So, fine. I'm happy to do a freebie. Delighted to talk to your kids, all of them. 

But that isn't all you want, is it? You also want a writers' workshop, something you forgot to tell me when you invited me to your event. "Well... Okay," I said, thinking it was going to be a few kids around a table, and planning some round robin stories.

But no. Turns out you wanted us to do a workshop for eighty kids! "But the teachers will be there!" you protested. "They will help you! Honestly, this worked fine last year." Yes, no doubt. And you got it all for free. And I wonder if you told your guests right at the start then? Well, there are ways of doing round robin stories for eighty, as long as you have tables for them to sit at in groups...

Er, no. They were going to sit on the floor...

At that point, about a week before the event, I knew that I could forget stories of any kind. It was going to be poetry. Acrostic poetry. Done in pairs or groups. 

I asked for A3 paper for the kids and a whiteboard and markers for me. The idea was that I'd scribble some brainstorms and write a poem on the board before asking them to do their own, then stick some of their work up on it. Well, the board was there all right. A bit smaller than I'd had in mind - a lot smaller - but I made use of it anyway. I had to rub stuff off, but I got it done. 

The kids were delightful and enthusiastic, the teachers helpful, and when they had written their acrostics, I invited them out to read. There were still several groups wanting to share their masterpieces, but just no time, so I stopped that part of the session and invited questions, with copies of one of my books as prizes for the best. The book was Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly, so I told them some of the more amusing stories from the book, such as the Valentine's Day robbery in the Dandenongs which ended with the two klutzy robbers fleeing, with one of them wounded in her backside and nothing to show for it but a bag of stale bread rolls. They LOVED that! It ended well. Very well!

The kids had a great time and two members of  Enthusiastic Young Teacher's writing group were delegated to thank me politely for my time. Afterwards, EYT, you took me to the gate, thanking me effusively and saying that if you could ever return the favour...

Now, I don't want to have a go at you for the freebie thing; I've benefited from a few freebies myself over the years. A couple of times we've had a writer who was paid, just not by us. Other times, someone kind has contacted me and offered their time and how could I resist?

However, if you really want to return the favour, pay attention as I make a few suggestions for next year. It's what I do. It works. I'm not having a go at you, just making some suggestions based on what has worked for me. Like you, I don't have a budget for author visits. And I tell my guests honestly, beforehand, that very few of my students will have the money to buy copies of their books, though they're welcome to bring some.

If you're going to ask someone to donate their time to your school, at least ask them what they want to do, okay? How many kids they are happy to talk to? I always do. They're usually happy to talk to entire year levels, but I ask, not tell.
If you must have it your way, if they must do workshops on top of the talk, at the very least let them know immediately, at the time of request, what you want of them. Don't tell them,"Oh, didn't I say? But it was okay last year!" You managed to get two new speakers in the last minute this time, so I'm sure that if someone only has time for one or the other, you'll be able to ensure students don't miss out. 
"Thank you," is nice, but not enough. How about feeding your guest speakers? Lunch would be the least you can do for people who have missed a morning's work for you. All we got this time was a cup of tea from the staff room urn. I always arrange lunch for my guests, whether they're paid or not. As it happens, I would have said no, thanks, as I had plans to meet a friend for lunch, but I would have liked to be asked. It doesn't have to be fancy. I order some fresh rolls from the school canteen and get a few cakes from the bakery down the road. I admit I pay from my own pocket, as it's simpler for me, but surely the school that's getting a free author visit can spare a few dollars for a canteen lunch? 
And I always call  the local papers to tell them about the event. True, they don't always come, but you can try. That is good promo both for your school and the author.
I gave the kids some books from my own stash as prizes this time, which was okay, my decision, but when I have a guest, I buy some from them, as they usually have some copies they bought at author price. True, that probably does have to come from your own pocket, but is it too much to ask? In your case, you probably won't need to do it often; this year, I was the only guest who had any books that would suit the school - one was a journalist, one had written a baby book and one was a student who hadn't had anything published except perhaps at university. But still.
Lastly, how about a small gift handed over by those students who are thanking the guest? A box of supermarket chocolates. A bunch of flowers. Heck, a key ring or water bottle with the school logo! I'm betting you have some of those stashed away in the office.

You might consider offering book launches. That's a good way to get a freebie, and call the press in for that. Sometimes publishers will give you bookmarks, posters, even copies of the book to give the kids or put in the library.

Just some suggestions for next time.


PS How about next time inviting the library technician who runs your library to be involved? You had this one on the day she doesn't work. As a paraprofessional she does know about children and books and reading, even if she isn't a teacher. I'm sure she would be delighted to help. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

On Looking At My Own Books Years Later...

Yesterday I was doing a school visit. It was a freebie to the primary school down the road from mine, a favour as we are always bring urged to communicate with our feeder schools. I could say a few things about the enthusiastic young teacher who organised it as part of her annual "writers festival" in which she invites "emerging writers"(I'm not, but I do work nearby...) to speak for free and then gets them to run writers' workshops for entire year levels - mine was 3 and 4 - without so much as offering them lunch or a small thank you gift, even a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates, but that's for another day and not really the subject of this post.

Anyway... I rummaged among my books, thinking to take a few with me in case the chance came to show them off, and what should I find but two copies of my chapter book The Sea's Secret, originally published here by Pearson. The second copy was the U.S. edition, published by Sundance, with the same cover and internal art, but there the similarities stopped. 

**Looking for an image of the cover online, I found this!

I never knew! I must have received royalties for it among all those"copies sold overseas" on my statements, but this is the first I've seen of it. I assume it must be legitimate as it was being sold through Amazon.**

So, they never sent me a copy of the Korean edition, but they did send me the U.S. one and oh, my, the differences! In Australia they changed my siblings from Hanna, Ariel and Nehama to Hannah, Adam and Nehama(the most unusual name was the one left) and one or two minor characters had name changes, eg my teacher Mr Pearl became Mr Goldman because, well, there was a pearl in an oyster at the start of each chapter. But that was about all. Barring a sentence here and there, it was the story I wrote.

The U.S. edition was another matter. Here, to start with, the siblings were Hanna, Adam and Nicole(Nehama too difficult? Or maybe not right for the African American children my three vaguely Jewish  siblings had been turned into? I have no idea). A character called Soula, the sister of my young, vaguely Greek artist, Nick, became Nina. Mr Goldman was Mr Patmore(why?). There was an entirely new character, a Principal called Mr Taylor, to replace(female)Principal Cartwright. Not just a change of name, but an addition. Halfway through the book! The dialogue and even the ending had been extensively rewritten to the point where I recognised the basic storyline but not much more.

Education publishers can do this without bothering to tell you, due to "everything but your firstborn and we might ask for that too" contracts, though at least there are usually good royalties after a while, because the U.S. market is huge. My royalties for this title were small, as chapter books have a much smaller run and shorter  shelf life than non fiction. I have a non fiction education title published by Cengage for which I am still getting an average $1000-2000 a year in royalties after thirteen years! And when you realise that those are paid as about five per cent of the net, I'm doing very well. Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology is my bestselling title of all time, due to the U.S. market. 

From what I hear, education publishers here no longer give royalties at all. Hopefully the flat fee is good, anyway, but I can imagine what they do to the books now under their full control.

This morning, by accident, I found this book.

Yes! It's the Chinese edition of this book.

It was published some years ago by Allen and Unwin and I'd forgotten about the Chinese edition. There was a North American edition, retitled This Book Is Bugged, the cover almost as good, though, as my editor said, "I'll miss that cat!"

That one is now only available as Print On Demand, but you can still get it. And kids love it. I never got any royalties on it, even though all the copies sold out, because 4000 of the run of 6000 copies were sold through Scholastic's Book Club and that pays less than an education title. 

Sigh! Is it any wonder I still have a full time day job? 

If you want to make me happy, how about ordering a copy of Cat or Bugged for the youngster in your life? :-)

More Nepotistic posting!

Received an email yesterday from my brother

If you're in Melbourne tonight, I promise this will be worth attending! A great way to spend Saturday night and these guys can sing. That's my brother with the beard(he's had one for years, if he shaved it he'd look about sixteen)

Latest News from The Ice Haloes
View this email in your browser

Greetings friends,

Just a quickly dashed off dispatch to remind all that our CD Launch is tomorrow night. We're going all out with lights, decorations, edible goodies, and of course some sweet tunes.

This will be the last performance for Peggy, so it's going to be bitter sweet.

It's 8PM in the Arbour Room, at Box Hill Community Arts centre.

There will be tickets at the door. $20 adults, $15 concession, and the CD will be for sale.

Kids under 15 free.

Peggy, Belinda, Adam & Maurice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Library Memories

Today a friend emailed me a link to a post by last month's Inside A Dog Writer In Residence, David Burton. It was a love letter to the local library of his childhood. And very sweet it was, too.

That made me think of my own childhood library experiences. 

When I was four or five we lived in West Melbourne. Nowadays the street we lived in has no houses in it at all, though I'm told the area in general has become gentrified. Well, it would, wouldn't it? It's on the very edge of the CBD. People with money like that sort of place.

But at the time, we lived in a rented worker's cottage which had a view of the railway lines at the end of the street and next door there was an orchard of nectarine trees, also long gone. It belonged to my Dad's boss.

At that time, the State Library had a lending section - you could actually borrow books from it, including children's books. I have a faint memory of holding Beatrix Potter books in my hands. Our local swimming pool was the City Baths(still there), near the library. I read somewhere that Redmond Barry, who started up the State Library, did it because he wanted people to be able to borrow books and that until it was up and running he let them come to his place to borrow. Nice man, unless you're Ned Kelly, anyway.

We moved to St Kilda when I was halfway through Year 1, but if there was a local library I never heard of it. I borrowed all my books from the school library. St Kilda Park Primary was a very old school, so it was built of cool stone and the library had a lovely arched ceiling, almost a dome. It was always pleasantly cool. I remember some of the books I borrowed, such as Good Luck To The Rider by Joan Phipson. That was a part of my enthusiasm for horse books, along with the mysteries of Enid Blyton. This one was Australian and featured a girl who was raising an ugly colt. Her brother had joked it was a real Rosinante. Not knowing where the name came from, she liked it and that became her horse's name. She got ribbed about it a lot, but the horse's abilities outdid his appearance. 

So, that was the sort of book I was borrowing from my school library. I actually owned quite a few, because my mother, who was just learning English, wanted her children to have a chance to be good at the language, so bought us whichever books we fancied, knowing we'd read them. My sister was also a passionate reader(still is)and because she was older than me, was borrowing library books I would never have discovered myself and I was reading them too.

But you can't own every book in the world and libraries were important to me.

At the end of primary school, I spent a year at Elwood Central, a school which went from Prep to Year 8. It's still there, though it's now only a primary school, since all the secondary kids moved to the secondary school down the road at the end of my first year there.

The library is still there. I remember it as being as cool and high-ceilinged as my primary school library. Best if all, there was a small, quiet area outside it, with benches in the shade of a big tree.

Two books I remember from that time were both by Donald Suddaby, Lost Men In The Grass and Prisoners Of Saturn. In the first, a bunch of men are shrunk to the size where they can ride ants and be in serious danger of being eaten by predatory insects. In the second, the heroes go to Saturn, which has a sentent race of brings who adapt the surface for their benefit, making an oxygen atmosphere and edible food, and lecture them about the way they're running their world...

I'm pretty sure they were written for children, but the (all male) characters were adults. For the record, one of the things the Saturnians advise is to let women take over on Earth. 

When I went to Elwood high school, there was a library, but it was just a classroom with books in it. I did borrow some fiction from it - some H.G Wells, as I recall - but I ended up back at the State Library. You could no longer borrow, but there were a lot more books than at school, and they weren't all novels. When you had to do research, my school library just didn't cut it.

I loved sitting at those ancient desks in the Reading Room, under the dome, with lamps on each one. 

That was many years ago, of course; the Reading Room is now as it was meant to be, with a flood of light coming from the skylights in the dome. It's absolutely beautiful, but...the ambience is no longer there. Ah, well.

                                              Latrobe Reading Room.
                                             Image taken from Wikipedia 

Thank goodness I now have the modern, very good St Kilda Library to borrow from, though there isn't anywhere much to curl up with a book. There are desks to work at. There is free wifi. There are computers for those who don't have their own. If I was a child I would go to story time. 

But nowhere to just sit and read comfortably. 

Can't have everything.

So, who has library memories to share? 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Just Finished Reading... Crash by Sean Williams. Published by Allen andUnwin.

I'm now two thirds of the way through Sean Williams' non-stop action-packed SF trilogy Twinmaker - I finished the second book, Crash, this morning. 

The first Twinmaker book, Jump, introduced us to a world where anyone can hop around the world any time they like through a teleport device called d-mat and the d-mat in its turn makes it possible to create anything from food to building materials using the fabber(presumably short for fabricator). This has freed up most people from work and hunger, though of course there are still some people working, such as teachers and "peacekeepers" (sort of a cross between the army and the police force), but you can live in Sweden and go to school in California if you like. There are also some spoilsports such as the Abstainers who don't trust anything that can take you apart and keep a pattern of you - and who know that accidents do happen, whatever others say. It has happened to them or those they love. 

In Jump, ordinary teenager Clair somehow got caught up in something known as Improvement, which she suspected had done terrible things to her best friend. Quiet, shy Clair somehow ended up running for her life and desperately trying to save her family and friends and, by the way, the world. At the end of the last book, Clair blew up a space station she thought was the problem, and escaped only because of the help of her friend the AI known as Q. But Q leaves her...

Crash brings more of the same, as things get worse and worse after the turn-off of the d-mat system, which was necessary since it was producing more and more "dupes", something that can be done once your pattern is stored in the d-mat system. These dupes aren't actually the people whose bodies they ride, just the bodies with someone else inside. They don't last long anyway, but can be produced again. 

But there are dupes appearing anyway. Some of them look like people you love. They just aren't. Who can you trust? 

Again, Clair makes mistakes while trying to save the world. 

It's amazing how much character development the author manages to fit in while his characters are running around a scary world, trying to survive, and there's no individual villain at this stage. 

As in the first book, this one ends with a Twinmaker short story seen from the viewpoint of Clair's friend Tash, who was stuck in the middle of a climb in South America when d-mat went down. It's interesting, actually, to see who Clair's "besties" are. In most YA fiction the heroine's friends are not especially interesting in their own right, because otherwise how can you focus on the protagonist? But Clair's friends are very interesting. Tash is brave and intelligent and Ronnie is the computer geek who is able to help Clair with a truly thorny problem early in the book, via the Air(the developed form of the Internet that everyone accesses through special contact lenses). You don't find out much about them early in the series because Clair is on the run only a few chapters in, but as the novels go on, they too develop. Strange to think the whole series so far takes place only over a week...

If you're keen on this universe, there's a short Twinmaker story in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61. It doesn't feature any of the characters from the books, but it does explain some things. 

Now on to Book 3! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Friday the 13th - boo!

There's actually a name for it: paraskevidekatriaphobia.

It means, in Greek, "Fear of Friday the 13th."

I had heard that it was because Judas was the 13th disciple(or that there were thirteen men crowded into that room for the Last Supper) and this is true as far as it goes, and there was certainly a fear of the number itself,  but according to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, this whole Friday the 13th thing didn't really take off till the nineteenth century.

Public Domain

Not that there aren't unlucky days connected with the number 13 - in Spain and Greece it's Tuesday the 13th that's bad luck..

But it just isn't as ancient and traditional as we all believed. So, if you have paraskevidekatriaphobia, it isn't an ancient condition. I do love the name, though. Try saying it twice, fast...

For my own people, 13 is a good number. It's the age when a boy becomes an adult, responsible member of the community.

I see that in 1907, there was a novel published, Friday The 13th, by Thomas W Lawson, in which a character arranges a Wall Street Crash on that day.

Dan Brown also mentions the date in The Da Vinci Code, a novel I didn't much care for. It was the date when the Knights Templar were wiped out. A nice connection, really, because they ran banks in their time. (When the Jews did it, it was called usury, when the Knights Templar did it, it was called banking!)

But there is no real connection between this and the superstition.

Anyway, have a great Friday the 13th, however you spend it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Heady Lamarr - A Belated Happy Birthday!

Public domain photo

Yesterday's Google Doodle was in honour of the 101st birthday of Hollywood star Hedwig Kiesler, aka Hedy Lamarr.

I made good use of her story. She appears in two of my children's books, once in Potions To Pulsars : Women Doing Science(long out of print, alas! I wish I could update it and get it republished but Ford Street, my hoped-for market, never got its money back on the only non fiction book it ever published, my own  Crime Time, not because it was no good but because of stuff-ups in distribution) and once in It's True! Your Cat Could Be A Spy. (Still available in POD if you want to read this whole story)

As a young woman, she was married off to an arms dealer who wanted her as a trophy wife and took her to his meetings with Nazi clients. He had underestimated her intelligence and so she was able to listen in carefully and take the information with her when she left him and fled to the U.S.

There, she became a star. One night at a party she was chatting with a composer, George Antheil, about those player pianos and the rolls they put in them.

And suddenly, the two of them came up with a wonderful invention called frequency hopping, based on the player pianos. It could be used to pass information safely between American submarines.

She offered the invention to the government, which didn't bother using it till after the patent ran out some years later and told her that if she really wanted to help, she could raise money selling kisses. This she did, at $20,000 a kiss. There's a delightful cartoon of this in Your Cat Could Be A Spy, drawn by my fabulous illustrator Mitch Vane.

If you're still not sure where this is leading, take a good look at your smartphone. You owe it to a beautiful Hollywood star and a composer. Yes, really! Look it up.

In the 1990s she was given a special award for services to science. "Hmmph!" she snorted. "About tine." Her son went to collect it on her behalf, as she was getting on in years by then. I believe that in 2014 she was inducted into the Inventors' Hall Of Fame.

Hmmph! About time.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Just Started Reading... Around The World In Eighty Days

With a new edition of Michael Strogoff, a lesser-known Verne novel, about to land in my letterbox, I thought it might be fun to reread one of the better-known ones. So far, enjoying the reread - I had forgotten the humour.

 Phileas Fogg is so, so very OCD in his lifestyle! He has just sacked his previous valet for making the shaving water two degrees less than it should be. He has a very precise way of life - so many steps to his club, where he spends every day, a precise time to leave home, a precise time to return and go to bed. The new servant, Passepartout, is absolutely thrilled at the thought that his new job will have absolutely no adventure in it, no running around(he sacked his previous master for too much running around and getting drunk)when his new employer comes home and tells him to pack, because they're off on a world tour - the same day he started work! Poor Passepartout!

And there's the detective, Fix, chasing them for a bank robbery...

The novel is a hoot! It's not science fiction, but it does consider the new technology that's making it possible to travel around the world in record time. Really, while not being SF, it does tell you that the author is a science fiction writer. He's interested in everything new and different.

And he was clearly having fun!